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February 05, 2021 4 min read

Most people get into exercise for the physical benefits it gives you, such as losing weight or building muscle, but exercise is beneficial in other aspects of your life, such as mental health. In fact, this mental boost is necessary to keep you motivated and in the right psychological place for an effective workout. Those who exercise regularly tend to do so because they feel a sense of well-being and achievement when they can feel and see the difference their efforts have made—and not just in body shape. Better sleep, more energy during the day, and a sense of relaxation are some of the ways exercise can boost your mental health. However, there is a litany of other benefits that can help improve your mental condition.

Depression

If you suffer from mild to moderate depression, exercise may be the stimulant you need to combat those symptoms. By occupying yourself and focusing on a fitness routine, you’ll distract yourself from drowning in much of the unwelcome introspection depression brings. Furthermore, exercise actually produces various changes in the brain, such as neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. In addition to these changes, your brain also releases chemicals called endorphins.

Endorphins are potent energizers that make you feel good by relieving stress and pain. These endorphins are easy to obtain, too, as you only need to do 15–30 minutes of cardio to activate them. As such, exercise can be a powerful tool for those with depression. The inherent negativity and melancholy of the condition make it all too easy to fall into inactive cycles where your mental state spirals downward, getting worse and worse. However, motivating yourself to get out and move can be difficult during the wintertime, so investing in a home gym treadmill will make it easier to get yourself going again.

Anxiety

Issues of anxiety are not far off from depression—they often come as a pair. Luckily, exercise serves as a “two birds, one stone” solution by helping with both. Those nifty endorphins kick in once again to relieve tension and stress that may be nagging at you and spiking your anxiety.

When a bout of anxiety hits you, it’s often helpful to really focus on something—your breathing, the feelings of your feet hitting the ground, or the wind on your skin—because by focusing on something specific and occupying your mind, you will interrupt the stream of worries and doubts making your anxiety spike. It helps you to keep a rhythm to your exercise for a more effective workout as well.

ADHD

If a doctor has diagnosed you with ADHD, you will likely be more interested in how exercise can boost your mental health by giving you sharper focus, more concentration, and a better memory. Aside from endorphins, exercise releases dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin—all of which affect your attention span and ability to focus. It is often why many people feel so clear-headed and lucid after working out. It can also soothe any restlessness by allowing you to expend excess energy.

Stress

We’ve touched on how exercise relieves stress, but let’s go over how exactly it does that. Stiff or tense muscles may result in chronic pain in your back, neck, or head that will only further stress you out. Stretching and exercising will loosen up your muscles and make your body feel much more relaxed and unburdened.

Stress itself, however, may cause physical maladies such as insomnia, heartburn, stomachache, diarrhea, or frequent urination. These conditions create a vicious cycle by making you feel even worse and, therefore, even more stressed out. Exercise will stave off these feelings and afflictions by clearing your head and improving your physical body. Use this cycle of mind and body to your advantage—exercise creates less stress and better health, which promotes improved self-esteem and confidence. If your body feels good and improves after a workout, so too does your mental state. This will make the stress that was previously crushing you feel like less of a burden, so with a refreshed point of view, you’ll be able to approach your problems at more manageable angles.

PTSD

People living with PTSD may also find exercise advantageous to their mental health. Like with anxiety, by really paying attention to and focusing on how your body feels as you exercise, experts theorize that exercise may be able to provide a sort of supplemental therapy. In this way, it may help your nervous system become “unstuck” from the immobilization stress response that characterizes PTSD and other forms of trauma. Staying mindful of your body and focusing on self-awareness can help you feel more in control and handle the triggers of your trauma.

Ideally, the best exercises would be ones that engage both your arms and legs. These include activities like running, swimming, or weight training. You could go for a hike or try sailing when the weather improves. Other activities include rock climbing or rafting if you prefer more unorthodox exercise routines. Whatever you decide, get those arms and legs moving.

Other Benefits

Of course, you don’t need diagnosable mental health conditions to benefit from working out. Exercise will make you feel good and confident in yourself while reducing everyday stress and anxiety, so it’s great for chasing a more content or ideal lifestyle. Some additional benefits include:

  • Better Sleep—As briefly mention, exercise can help you combat insomnia. By clearing your head, expending some energy, and loosening up your body, you will find that you have fewer obstacles while trying to fall and stay asleep.
  • Immunity Boost—By getting the blood flowing and your body moving, your body will be more effective at responding to potential diseases that may try to breach your immune system. With exercise, your body will be more than ready to eradicate viruses.
  • More Energy—While exercise expends energy, it also gives some back. After working out, you will feel more awake and alert as you go through your day, and you will find obstacles such as low motivation and exhaustion easier to overcome. As such, you’ll be far more productive, which will further boost your self-esteem and confidence.

How Exercise Can Boost Your Mental Health


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